Eating on the Street

October 28, 2002

People who hawk food in Thailand, otherwise known as street vendors, can be found in the quietest and sleepiest of neighbourhoods as well blocking the busiest of sidewalks. Their stalls can let off aromas that will make your stomach smile in anticipation or cause you to gag. Most any visitor to Thailand has survived the unforgettable experience of having the fumes from freshly cooked chili rising from a hawker stall causing profuse eye watering. Hawker stalls are basically transportable restaurants that range in size. Hawker food and all of the apparatus and the vendors that go with it represent one of the most colourful and inventive sides of Thailand.

Rows of aluminum pots, frying pans and woks on top of charcoal or gas stoves, mortars and pestles, glass showcases displaying pre-cooked food or raw ingredients, clay pots, and bamboo containers are but a few ways food may be presented and stored for potential customers. From a five-baht snack to a forty-baht281002k1.jpg main meal, hawkers ensure that everyone manages to find something for most any craving and most any budget. With relatively unsophisticated equipment, Thai hawker stalls do a spectacular job turning out food, and lots of it.

Some street stalls offer small tables and plastic chairs for customers to dine at while others just hand off the food in plastic bags and leave it to the diners to find a place to eat it at. The major areas of hawker food include main meals served with rice, noodles of every shape and size, snacks and more snacks, deserts and refreshments.

Sit for five minutes on a busy street corner and see what kind of food is for sale or passing you by. Roasted eggs, flour pancakes, papaya salad, barbequed chicken, fish balls, dried squid, fried crab in curry, dumplings, roasted potatoes, boiled bananas in coconut syrup, fried rice, grilled meatballs, palm cakes, and fresh fruit might be just a few things that you’ll spot. And that is not including the281002k2.jpg refreshment options also readily available. Coke, fruit juice, herbal ice tea, sugar cane juice, not to mention beer and whisky, are but some. An often-overlooked aspect of the hawker food service is the very small and frequently mobile bar set up near a group of hawker stalls. Small pick-up trucks, tuk tuks and pushcarts are cleverly converted into watering holes and offer the cheapest drinks in town.

Although some may be skeptical to try hawker food due to the sometimes unsanitary conditions associated with it, the best idea is to give the hawker stall a look over. Truth said, some of the food preparation areas in well-known restaurants could be even more disastrous even though (and perhaps due to the fact that) they are usually out of view.

Street eating generally includes having to ask for your meal from the person who is going to cook it and paying for it on the spot if it is busy. If there is a table available, take it. It is typical to wipe off your281002k3.jpg dining utensils and plate with a tissue before you start eating. Condiments including soy sauce, dried chili, chilies in vinegar, sugar, and fish sauce are usually provided. When you are finished, someone will come around and clear the table, so no need to worry. You can bring your own drinks along with you if you wish.

There is no cheaper or easier way to sample the amazingly wide variety of food that Thailand has to offer. Another benefit is that if you don’t speak Thai, you can simply point at what you wish to try, an option obviously not available at formal sit down restaurants with no English menu. It is also a good idea to ask around and find out where the best hawker stall(s) in the area are located. It is not at all uncommon to find people going five, ten or twenty blocks out of their way in order to enjoy a meal at one.

Eating is perhaps Thailand’s number one pastime. This is obviously a well-known fact to those in the hawker business. It is not uncommon while you are already eating at a hawker stall to have another hawker come up on foot and offer you even more food. Hawkers also make their ways through public parks, traffic jams, office buildings, factories and sporting events. There is just so much food passing by all the time and it all manages to get eaten!

Hawker food helps guarantee that no matter what time of day or night, the chance of you having to walk around hungry in Thailand is small and makes a hot dog stand look quite boring indeed.

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